The art of collective exhibitions can be similarly perilous and delicate. How many times have we seen collections of disparate works with no pre-planned design under the pretext of diversity? The overall effect is a vague impression that voids are filled and spaces occupied without even the slightest coherence in the artistic language. This is in not at all the case with ?L?Afrique Fantôme?, the exhibition currently at the Anne de Villepoix Gallery in Paris. The project may be perilous through a choice of artists from occasionally opposing worlds but complementarity and even confrontation play a decisive role here. In this artistic interpretation, the unusual and experimental show us a lesser-known Africa, off the beaten track. The project is designed to be as intergenerational as it is multidisciplinary; the techniques and intentions of each artist involved differ greatly. The alternation between works allows us to venture on roads that are less travelled and more surprising where we can encounter the completely off-the-wall art of young Tologese artist Atsoupé, and roads that are more tranquil but mysterious. Franck Lundangi, a very regular contributor to the gallery, is a perfect illustration of this.
We are far from the idea that these are underground artists. The gallery manager?s approach involves seeking out and identifying the most original and impertinent elements the African continent has to offer, to surprise us even further. This research results in mischievous exhibition design in the real sense of the word, a contrasting landscape demonstrating that Africa and its artists are renewing themselves and exploring the many possibilities of portraying their art. It is not about endless technical prowess, nor is it pretentiousness that often masks a lack of anything to say. It is an exhibition whose intelligence titillates how we see and how we think. In this ambition for openness, there is a sometimes iconoclastic, sometimes esoteric note of freedom if we refer to the two artists previously mentioned who punctuate this event with temperance. Atsoupé?s art cannot be categorised and also embraces a bold and unabashed impertinence, like his characters with their wool hair and moustaches that shake up the codes of femininity and masculinity. Conversely, we have Franck Lundangi revealing his strange bestiary, a lost paradise where people and animals cohabit. The two artists come together to invite us on interior journeys of discovery.
Elsewhere, the exhibition reveals genuine surprises with the presence of artists who are still far too little-known like Poco and Co, whose masks, as improbable as they are original, celebrate a very different type of craftsmanship. This French woman has been living in Ouagadougou for 12 years where she has set up her own studio. Her knowledge of African culture and her ability to reinterpret it in a style affected by different influences are masterful. Her taste for fashion (she is also a stylist and has just won the Hyères Grand Prix) and noble materials, leather here, are her inspiration. Her creations are like icons where the geometry of the shapes and materials used lend meaning to her approach. Among these discoveries, the small works by Gastineau Massamba take a fresh view of Africa that is perhaps also his. The artists carries his ghosts with him and projects them onto prints that are variations of the theme of death. The characters on black backgrounds could be reminiscent of those painted by James Ensor and also the figures celebrated by Mexicans for the Day of the Dead. Even if he evokes the suffering and pain of his compatriots, Gastineau Massamba is summoning us to a story where every protagonist plays a part, sometimes cynical, sometimes dramatic, but nevertheless tinged with hope. The artist says he has painted a great many of these pages that recall photo negatives. A wonderful exhibition on the horizon. Without leaving the experimental world, how to describe the work of Aliou Diack who challenges and commands admiration through his technique and composition. Here, the ghosts are primitive, as if from a cave. The artist seems to return to the deepest roots of civilisation, to an essence where the relationship with nature, be it human, plant or animal, is guided by the elements. The result of the process is fascinating, a fantastic mastery in such that the artist?s intervention respects and adapts to this dialogue. Aliou Diack confirms that he is a singular naturalist whose imagination never ceases to surprise us.
From one nature to the other, the journey continues, meandering as if one canvas calls to mind another. The bright and airy gallery space is perfect for ambling; nothing obligates visitors to follow the exhibition in a specific order. Transgender artist Warsame Uman presents a painting on the margins of abstraction and figurative art, between real and dream. The relationship to nature is somewhat ghost-like in that it has a certain depth, a happening where one?s inner self melts in a tangle of branches. The artist is exploring the human soul in all its complexity, identity in a dark metaphor without it being hopeless, desperate. Yet another invitation to discover an artist who challenges people?s reactions to difference, to the unknown. Without comparing their respective talents, we can draw a parallel between Aliou Diack and Warsame Uman as their work invites us to a strange conversation.
Derrick Adams meddles in this discussion; he joins it with a touch of humour and his portraits where the tranquillity contrasts with the two previously mentioned artists. This said, the apparent stiffness of the characters cannot hide their secret garden; their lives are less-regulated and their wanderings more twisted than the almost static geometry of the faces and clothes would suggest. It is often behind apparent normality that the worst depravities and ghosts of the past hide. Would this past not be the history of African Americans that the Baltimore-born American painter explores in non-conventional forms, part pop culture, part African references? This disciple of black culture is, in his own way, an iconoclastic artist in his relationship with aesthetics.
Our journey could have finished here but that would have been without taking into account Anne de Villepoix?s expertise as a ?discoverer? and her penchant for taking us to unknown places, as yet unexplored worlds.
The landscapes of Yveline Tropéa are the result of skilful mixes, cultures and even style combinations. The drawings of this artist established in Burkina Faso are neither ethnic nor a too European vision of Africa. There is a real focus on cultural adaptation, a relationship to sub-Saharan materials and cultures that makes her more African than certain natives. Here, the environment completely alienates description and flirts with primitive, pared down art. She enters a dialogue with herself, between two cultures that are the roots for her pictorial universe: her Italian origins and her African installation. The work is inhabited by this permanent dialogue, by a subtle and generous pictorial language that uses diverse materials including beads.
Another artist, another approach. Meriem Bouderbala appropriates Orientalism through a vision of a completely uninhibited Arab woman in balance with a dramatically changing society. A romanticised and desired woman, a woman discriminated by law. Meriem demystifies these archaic visions of a Maghreb that has never really succeeded with its societal revolution. She puts herself forward as a loudspeaker for these millions of women who, for decades, have hoped for the advent of another (hi)story. Because of this, her colourful prints take on another, more radical dimension as they distort these clichés.
Thousands of kilometres away in the heart of the Caribbean, Cuban artist Armando Mariño was an art student. Many years later he returned to his studies at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. Here again is an artist in rebellion, opposing Western and Cuban art in his work. All these contradictions are portrayed in the portrait simply entitled ?She?. The closed face of a young woman contrasting with a multicoloured outfit tells a whole story about the culture shock between two worlds. This artist currently living in New York also talks of his African lineage springing powerfully from the vibrant colours as if the palette itself was a protest flag. He is inhabited by the ghosts of an Africa that is both distant and rooted in the diversity of his continent.
From Portuguese-speaking Africa, more specifically Angola, Ricardo Kapula reminds us how much his country, which won its independence later, buried its dead to become a nation where its population?s energy is only equalled by its zest for life. His work on fabrics teaches us more about daily life than any lecture could. In his world we see cheerfulness, movement, the forward progress of young people that are not as carefree as they may appear. Behind the scenes and high²lighting a more modest population, there is a loud cry of hope, a dance where aspirations for a better tomorrow appear through the stencil.
Godwin Nabuya invites us to a similar dance. An astonishing aquatic ballet for one, oscillating between mime and spirit dance. The symbol of water is recurrent in African legends. Whether it is spiriting away the soul of the dead or, more recently, people in exile, water is depicted more as a predator than a redeemer. This contorted choreography scoffs at all those who refuse to see or admit that life is a huge farce, a comedy in which each person calls the shots however they see fit. It is unquestionably the exhibition?s most intriguing painting.
The sculpture is unforgettable; it generates strange ghosts that seem to converse with our subconscious in different shapes and from different approaches. Ferdinant Makouvia has designed a sculpture on canvas using different materials, mainly minerals to fix them on the painting. This equally abstract and vertical composition seems to surge out of his world like an invitation on a journey through the unknown.
Yashua Klos is an innovator whose materials, their assembly and combinations represent an act of liberation. This painter, engraver, paster and sculptor is a master in each of his fields. The sculpture is similarly contemporary and timeless, as if his knowledge of Renaissance art gave him a reinterpretation of Afro-Americanism. He shakes up periods and mixes past works with those celebrating innovation. This new take gives body to sculptures cut from stone as an act of memory, to mark time for ever.
This journey between the River Styx and the imaginary exorcises our limited Parisian lives. It is an invitation to travel through the heart of an Africa that opens its eyes on its past to better attempt to forget it. Of all these phantasms rooted in both reality and fiction, each plays its part without risk of perdition on dead-end roads. Each artist is aware that his or her continent still has a great deal to teach us. The selection of works ensures absolute coherence and joyfully plays the card of eclecticism. How wonderful it is to have events as rich as this for the pre-season period. The curtain has only just gone up and already we can see great potential ahead.